Trying to See Through Culinary Eyes

indiana jones travel mapOver the last number of weeks, my wife and I have been trying to take our kiddos on a trip around the world using our taste buds. We’ve picked a country to try food from and research recipes that come from that country and culture. Next we take the kiddos to the National Geographic website and show them pictures of the country where the food is from and read off some facts about the country. We then go to the website Operation World which lists every country on earth and what specific prayer needs are for each country such as poverty issues, issues of injustice, or oppression, etc (they also publish a book that is a lot more in depth than the website is). We then pray for each country and the needs listed on Operation World.

The countries we’ve done so far have begun with the first letter of our names. We had India, Argentina, Romania (which the dish really didn’t turn out very well at all), and then we were going to do Japan but due to trying to find the right recipe, getting the ingredients, and what not, we gave up on that. I almost went for Djibouti but again my wife reminded me that it didn’t begin with a “J” but a “D” (though, to be honest, I just like saying Djibouti…it’s just fun to say).

As we were doing research, we learned that a Jordanian food is connected to 2012 Marvel’s The Avengers. It’s from the last scene in the move (post-credits so you’d have to wait to the very end) where Tony Stark insisted that once they were done fighting, to go get some shawarma. He didn’t know what it was, but he wanted some.

avengers schwarmaShwarma! We didn’t really know what it was either, but we figured we’d give it a shot. And so we found a recipe for it.

As I was prepping the food, I began to see that some of the spices needed to marinade the chicken were similar spices to both the Indian food (curry) and the Argentinian stew (cumin) that I had made. Both also involved garlic. Lots of it. But the smells were different. The texture was different. The preparation was different. The Argentinian dish was a stew while this was marinaded chicken to be cooked over fire. The preparation was so different as well.

With the Indian chicken coconut curry recipe, it was made in a pan while the naan was cooked like a pancake almost on a griddle. Both the naan and the shwarma called for yogurt, but again, were used in different ways.

As usual, I had the recipe out in front of me and the ingredients ready to be used with the proper measure devices. I slowly walked through how to make the marinade for the chicken and the shwarma sauce (which called for Greek yogurt and tahini and garlic…a weird combo in my mind, but it worked). After putting the chicken in the marinade and making the sauce, I looked at it.

IMG_3613How did a culture come to be that they thought about putting these ingredients together in such a way that it was vastly different form other countries that used similar ingredients? How did God move each people groups in such a way to have a different spice and taste pallet than others? I was fascinated by the creativity behind each dish I had made up to this point.

The marinated chicken was to be cooked over an open fire. I hauled out my grill, cleaned it off, and poured in the only charcoal I had left over from the summer–Kingsford mesquite charcoal (note to self–when I Middle Eastern food calls to be cooked over an open fire, don’t cook it in a snow storm in the middle of February in west Michigan). As I lay the chicken on the grill over the fire, I smelled the combination of garlic, curry, and cumin mix with the mesquite and smoke.

IMG_3615I wondered, how did a culture come up with the idea of putting this mixture together and then placing this over an open flame? How did this culture grow and develop in order to create this way of cooking, this food? What was the necessity which brought them to cook in this way?  How did this food I was cooking at the moment reflect the Jordanian culture today? How respectful was I being of their cultural heritage by cooking their food, not mine but their food, in a western way?

My kiddos loved the idea of me cooking on the grill outside in the snow. They thought it was the greatest (though I will say, this isn’t the first time I’ve done it and it won’t be the last but usually it’s with burgers and brats). They were outside playing in the snow and from time to time came over to smell the aroma of curry, cumin, and garlic coming from the smoke emanating from the grill. I tried to explain to them how this food was cooked over the fire in Jordan and how other cultures cooked their food on sticks on open fires for centuries. I tried to explain how different cultures cook food differently. A few snow balls were thrown at one another before they went inside.

As I brought in the chicken, browned, cooked, smell so good, my wife began showing the kiddos pictures and information on Jordan from Operation World and National Geographic.

I myself spread out the ingredients to try to assemble the shwarma.

IMG_3617The recipe I was using wasn’t really specific on this point. In the end, it came together and worked.

We had shwarma!

IMG_3618And my wife, myself, and the kiddos loved it.

Before we ate, we took time to pray for Jordan, for the conflict happening around their country right now and for wisdom for their leadership. We also prayed for the Christian in the country to be a witness for Jesus there.

During our meal, we discussed the country of Jordan. We talked about the number of displaced refugees coming into the country and how Jordan has been trying to help them but it’s been a strain. We talked about how Jordan’s been involved in fighting with the US in conflicts going on in the area (we didn’t go in depth into the ISIS situation, but we did say that there were some bad things happening there which Jordan was trying to defend and protect people). After we were done, we asked our kiddos what was one thing they could pray for about Jordan. And as we concluded our meal, each kiddo prayed for Jordan, sweet little prayers for a country they’ve never been to and maybe never see, for people they’ve never met, and for a situation that is right now a bit beyond their comprehension.

Next we’re going to start looking at foods that are part of our heritage–all northern European. It’ll be a change in the taste pallet for sure. What I like most about this is the fact that our kiddos are not only tasting and trying new foods (and actually liking it and asking that I make these recipes again) but that they are learning about other cultures, peoples, and places a world away, and praying for them.

The adventure continues.

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